Jazz Setlist, September 5-11: Bullettes, Billy, and Bass Clarinet
Thursday, September 5
There's an ambitious and impressive project that doesn't work very often in the District proper. Indeed, this very gig is in Bethesda, but it's worth the trip. I speak of Shannon Gunn, a longtime member of the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra's trombone section, who is also the head of her own catchily named ensemble, Shannon Gunn and the Bullettes. It's an all-female ensemble (just turned two years old) that plays the great big-band arrangements as well as some lesser-known parts of the repertoire—always with a brightly colored palette and classic, motion-inducing swing. And, like most big bands, this one has a small-group exponent. The Bullettes Jazz Sextet features saxophonist Leigh Pilzer, pianist Lianna Gekker, bassist Amy Shook, drummer Isabelle De Leon, and vocalist Jessica Boykin Settles along with Gunn herself. Big-band book, probably not; but the bright colors and the surefire swing are inevitable. The Bullettes Jazz Sextet performs at 7:30 p.m. at Bethesda Blues and Jazz, 7719 Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda. $10.
Friday, September 6
The much-admired weekend jazz series at Southwest’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel packed its lobby-level lounge every week with a mix of tourists and local jazz lovers for seven years, until the series was canceled in July. It was the brainchild of pianist and bandleader Chris Grasso—who lost no time in finding a new venue for it. The hiatus lasted only two months, with Grasso now returning to the bandstand at Chez Billy, a French bistro in Petworth. The premiere features Grasso on piano, Zack Pride on bass, and Lena Seikaly, one of the District’s best and most popular singers, fronting the band. It’s an attempt to replicate the Mandarin success in a less tourist-friendly but equally chic spot—but since when do Washingtonians complain about too few tourists? Chris Grasso performs with Lena Seikaly at 9 p.m. in the upstairs lounge at Chez Billy, 3815 Georgia Ave NW. Free.
Saturday, September 7
At the New Vintage Jazz & Wine Fest two weeks ago, Todd Marcus proved once again what a beast he is on the bass clarinet—an instrument still somewhat rare in jazz (enough so that when Marcus placed in Downbeat's Annual Critics Poll last year, it was in "miscellaneous instruments"), but with increasing currency as an alternative to the well-trodden saxophone. Having gone so far down this road-less-traveled, Marcus is exploring yet another. He is of Egyptian heritage, and plumbs those depths on the bandstand with takes on the music and sounds of Egypt and the Middle East on his 2012 recording Inheritance. It's no simple task, since Middle Eastern music and jazz function on frequently incompatible harmonic foundations, but Marcus makes it work with gorgeous results. He performs with pianist Harry Appelman, bassist Kris Funn, and drummer Shareef Taher on Friday and Saturday at 8 and 10 p.m. at Twins, 1344 U Street NW. $15.
Sunday, September 8
Once again the CapitalBop gang rises up to bring a great program of local jazz. Giovanni Russonello and Luke Stewart are always up to something interesting, and often something new. This month's D.C. Jazz Loft isn't new per se, but it is rather unusual: The evening's three performers are all among the less spotlighted musicians in town. Ace trumpeter Joe Herrera is probably the most visible of these, as co-founder and -leader of The Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra and frequent sideman; he occasionally leads his own small groups, though less frequently in recent days. Vocalist Kiyem Ade, fresh off an August residency at Bohemian Caverns, has been around a while, but many of us (myself included) only really encountered him for the first time during that stint. He's a spectacular talent, one of the area's most soulful singers and unrestrained in his mixing of funk and hip-hop with jazz. Michael Price is an insider's piano player: a great technician who has worked with everyone in D.C., but isn't well known as a leader. It's a great window on the District's in-the-trenches jazz musicians. The Jazz Loft begins at 7 p.m. at Chez Billy. $15 suggested donation.